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Don't let scandal outrage lead to bad policy

Washingtonians are rightly dismayed and upset by recent scandals, including Lincoln Navigators and Sulaimon Brown. We should demand the highest standards from leaders. However, we should also beware that righteous indignation can quickly transform into unstoppable pressure for very bad policies.

Photo by Mike Licht on Flickr.

These revelations in the news are indeed troubling. As one who did support Gray (as a few commenters never tire of pointing out), I too am very disappointed to read them.

Residents and opinion leaders should beware of a natural tendency to want to go after everyone in government with a metaphorical meat cleaver, however. In particular, we should be very skeptical about proposals to restrict the pay of top administration officials or cut the pay of councilmembers.

A great department head can save millions of dollars by managing projects better, hiring more capable staff, and avoiding costly mistakes. In the private sector, a good leader can make very good money. We should rightly condemn paying anyone six-figure salaries if that person isn't qualified to do a job, but we also shouldn't hesitate to pay six figures to someone who'll pay for his or her own salary several times over.

Likewise, there seems to be a growing groundswell to have Councilmembers cut their own pay following revelations that they're more highly paid than most city legislators. Besides the instant counterargument that the DC Council fills the role of both state and city legislature, the fact is that we want good legislators.

Low pay for legislators just means that only wealthy people can afford to run for office. The average citizen would not run for Council if it meant he couldn't pay his rent. Nor is part time legislating the answer. The Virginia legislature meets for two months a year and has almost no time to consider bills, leading to many measures being hastily passed or rejected.

Cutting pay is also incompatible with the other, more worthy criticism of the Council that some of its members hold down one or even two other jobs, some of which raise at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Personally, I'd rather pay our legislators more and expect them to work full time as a result.

After the Metro crash in 2009, many people started criticizing everything related to Metro and everyone in any sort of leadership position, whether or not that person had anything to do with the crash or had made any mistakes at all.

In blog comment threads, people called for drastic and unrealistic measures from putting all Board members in jail to complete federal takeovers. That last option wasn't just confined to blogs but emerged from the mouths of United States Senators, some of whom now want to cut all the funding to the agency.

The angry mob approach may generate fun Twitter threads and raise traffic for area media outlets but never leads to good policy.

That's the real danger in these scandals. There's some actual harm that comes from having an ill-advised car or hiring someone inappropriately. There's far more in the loss of confidence in our institutions that can result, and the hasty decisions leaders might make when they're more concerned with looking good in the political columns.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Dude, for the most part. Are you kidding?!

1. I'll give you council pay. The real issue is "side work" (in reality, primary income). That needs to stop.

2. The key on Gray's staff pay is precisely whether they are worth the biggest dollars ever for these roles. More than correspondent salaries at the freaking White House, or most States. So far, given Brown at $110 K plus bennies, Gray taxi fixer's kid at the same, numerous nepotism hires in addition, and a collective of people who are mostly qualified by being "Native Washingtonians" and pals with the Mayor, that's dubious at best.

by John on Mar 8, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

You can't put the lid back on once you open the can of righteous indignation. Gray rode the tide of the anti-corruption BS leveled at Fenty, and now he's being battered by the same. No seasoned DC resident thought that Gray was going to 'fix' the type of corruption that Fenty was being accused of. What folks liked about Fenty was that, despite the fraternity brother contracts, the work was being completed and being completed extremely competently. With Gray, we knew that insiders would still be getting no-compete bids, but that the results would be shoddy and disappointing. On the upside Fenty was legitimately tackling DC's biggest issues, something that no administration before his had the cojones to do. Seems like Gray's going to ride Fenty's hard work on schools after all.

It seems a few idealistic and naive DC bloggers took Gray at his word. Those of us who back Fenty, think that everything happening now is completely within the realm of what we expected if Gray was elected. Backsliding into a crummy run down city government.

by ahk on Mar 8, 2011 11:00 am • linkreport

@ahk 'the work was being completed and being completed extremely competently.

LOL ... LOL ... Bike lanes that don't work, a streetcars 'system' initial leg that has no way of connecting with the rest of the proposed system, a serious deviation from the comprehensive plan going on with OP's suggestions for new regs ... a nearly bankrupting of the city's coffers for some pet projects ... the list goes on and on ...

Gray's only been in there 2 months. Did anyone really expect him to be able to fix in 2 months a legacy that was handed to him by Fenty ... and goes back to Barry?

It's just sour grapes playing out.

by Lance on Mar 8, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport


Let's just file all these mini-scandals away for future reference. If Gray turns out to be half as effective an executive as Fenty, we'll go ahead and throw him out on his ear. After all, whatever random guy we replace him with could be even better! Eventually we'll have the *perfect* Mayor!

What could possibly go wrong?

by oboe on Mar 8, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

DAl..dude, you're good. Gotta admit that.

@John, do you have any evidence that shows "why" the people you reference weren't qualified for the jobs in which they were hired? I'm not a native Washingtonian but it took me quite some time to figure out why many native get salty about the transients who are in and out of their city. I have absolutely no problem hiring people who are from this city, to run this city. If they are competent, who should care?

@Ahk, exagerrate much? Gray has been in office for two months and you think a parallel can be drawn between Fenty's 4 years and Gray's 2mos? Which nobid contracts produced shoddy and disappointing results?

By the way, Anthony Williams brought us back from the depths of financial ruin. Yet, you believe that Fenty was the one who ever had the balls to tackle our biggest issues? Let me guess, you arrived here in 2006? And no, I doubt that Gray will ride Fenty's coattails regarding the schools any more than Michelle Rhee rode Dr. Janey's (who had his own master education plan).

A little honesty goes a long way guys.

by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 11:23 am • linkreport

David, a lot of what you are saying has merit. @Lance, as usual, you are just sputtering. Not sure why you bother posting here.

The problem David that many of us long term residents of the District habe, is that we lived through the Pratt-Kelly and Barry years in the 90's. We know how far the city came under Williams and Fenty. This was hard fought, and our reputation nationally went from laughingstock to well managed capitol city.

I think we viewed your endorsement as very naive, because we know how fast we could slip back, and how hard the key players working under Williams and Fenty toiled to change perceptions, and the reality of DC Gov. Like anything, it can take decades to change something, and days or months to undo it. What is truly said is that all of these scandals point to DC Gov going back to being a jobs program vs. a meritocracy, and more about people who need to be in the government to have a paying job versus people who joined DC gov to help change it, and could be doing a lot of other things to make more $.

So I agree with David's sentiments, and he is right in many ways, but unfortunately I think we have made a horrible mistake, and we now do not have the power to right it. Lets hope that this is the last gasp of the Barry era, but I worry that now people will stop moving back to the city. No one wants to live in a city or work in a government that has become a national joke again.

One last thing David. It's okay to admit that you made a mistake and move on. Those that truly appreciate your efforts will respect your ability to admit error. It happens to all of us.

by 25 year resident on Mar 8, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

Council pay is a legitimate critique. They are nearly the highest paid Council in the land and this "they perform duties of a city and state" is complete malarkey. What exactly are the additional duties they perform that other major metropolitan Councils do not? You can not tell me that this Council which oversees a population of 600K people, in a city where 1/3rd of the land is owned by uncle sam has any greater responsibility than does the governing body of NYC, Chicago or LA.

I would be willing to put all that aside if they simply cut out their "extracurriculars" that they all make six figures from. The "woe is us" excuse that they are so busy and perform so many non-council functions rings falsely when they are all bringing in an additional 100-200K a year with outside jobs.

2. Pay SHOULD reflect experience and responsibility. This "they could earn more in the private sector" fall back is in this case, sadly wrong. The ~200K salaries Gray is doling out like halloween candy to his current private sector associates are without fail significant salary increases from their current jobs. The Brown debacle is now just the most visible, but a perfecet example. They handed a 110K salary to someone who had never made more than 60K a year in his life. The sad fact of the matter is we now have a growing number of city employees who make more than the most senior White House staffers.

I'll end this by saying yet again, this ridiculousness was a given with a Gray administration. I'm sorry that people get tired of running our Barry's name but Gray and Barry have been fast friends for decades, Gray sought out Barry's help for gods sakes and Gray's own failing professional and legislative history was all there for everyone to read.

I really hope the US AG's office gets involved. This 3 month old admin needs a healthy dose of sunshine.

by freely on Mar 8, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

Sorry, or gals.

@Ahk, oh yeah, can you post the link to the nobid contracts that have been such a disaster? I'm sure the rest of us would like to read them.


by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

Bike lanes that don't work...

Damn those non-working bike lanes!!!

Hey, Lance, my uncle's wife's sister-in-law marched with Cesar Chavez, so I'm sure you'll agree I'm uniquely positioned to express my outrage at your reference to sour grapes.

by oboe on Mar 8, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

@HogWash: Actually, I was here since 1994, remember the disaster Marion created, and that Tony Williams was the bguy who turned it around. I supported Fenty by default, because as has now been pretty proven, Gray just meant a different set of clowns feeding at the public trough, so the "honest govt" crap Dvorak brings up today was not a relevant point of the last election.

by John on Mar 8, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

My thoughts can basically be summed up like so:
1. This was inevitable.
2. It's not really Gray's fault, so it doesn't change anything.
3. The jury is still out on what kind of mayor Gray will be.

Gray was elected on a tide of resentment about how city government has moved away from the Barry model of personal handouts, so it stands to reason that once in power many of the people who resented recent changes would try to move back to the old system. After an election like that, of course there were going to be some people who thought to themselves "WAHOO IT'S OPEN SEASON AGAIN!"

To Gray's credit, I don't think this is what he wants from his administration, nor do I think he is personally to blame. I think Gray means it when he says he wants a well-run city. These scandals are simply the natural byproduct of the tide Gray was elected on. His only direct sin so far has been naivety; he should have seen this coming.

The real question moving forward will be how Gray handles all this. Can he get city hall back under control in the name of good government, or will he give in to the pressures that elected him and let the government backslide into complete cronyism? The jury is definitely still out.

I think it would be unfair and premature to judge Gray on two months of what was bound to be a bumpy transition. We knew this would happen, so it doesn't change anything about the wisdom of waiting to see how he handles his new job.

Of course, the fact that such a risk exists in the first place is exactly why those of us who voted for Fenty did so.

by BeyondDC on Mar 8, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport

25 year resident: I'll admit I made a mistake when I'm convinced it's a mistake. So far, there's some disappointing minor league stuff, but it doesn't tell me if the administration is going to do a good job making the really important decisions.

So far, this stuff basically has given everyone who voted for Fenty reasons to say "see? I told you so." That's a real tragedy since now the city is not One City. But it doesn't tell us if we're going to be better of 4 years from now than we are today, or not. That's what really matters.

by David Alpert on Mar 8, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

'85/86. I was in grade school.

Nice try Hogwash. As a dually appointed member of the "I liked DC the way it was when everyone was getting shot" I'm sure you did dislike the Fenty and William's administrations. You're probably one of those baby boomers who bought his DC house at an artificially low price on the blood of everyone who was getting shot. You're a real champion.

William's did a lot of good for the city, but he was under the thumb of the Financial Control Board, so it's not like he gets 100% credit for 'fixing' DC. He gets credit for doing the right thing, but no more. Had DC not been bailed out by the Fed's, we'd be barely two steps ahead of Detroit right now.

by ahk on Mar 8, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

Low pay for legislators just means that only wealthy people can afford to run for office.

What we have instead is people running for city council because they feel that it's a good move for them to live the "good life" economically, when they would otherwise have no other options to do so well.

Is there any evidence that Kwame Brown could be paid as well as a city council member in the private sector?

by JustMe on Mar 8, 2011 11:41 am • linkreport

That's a real tragedy since now the city is not One City.

We're annoyed because you naively bought into this "one city" stuff because it appealed to your goo-goo liberal sensibilities. There is not, and never will be, "one city." It's why we have city council members that represent separate districts-- because we all have different (sometimes competing) interests.

Personally, I feel that, given that Fenty was going to go down, Gray was the least bad option-- Fenty could have been replaced by someone much, much worse. But nothing indicates to me that Gray will make a better mayor... within months, Gray is putting the mayor's office back to the patterns that people were worried about.

by JustMe on Mar 8, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

Legitimate question: Does Washington have a mayoral recall process?

I know that those things are only meant to be used in extreme circumstances, but Gray's first two months have been nothing short of disastrous.

by andrew on Mar 8, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

And let me get this straight -- I want Gray to be a successful mayor. As long as he sets out to do (and at least partially accomplishes) what he thinks is best for the city, I will drop my utter disgust with his administration.

Unfortunately, his administration has been completely devoid of a vision or any specific goals. Although I doubt he's trying to actively harm the city, I remain unconvinced that Gray even has a vague notion of what would be "best for Washington." As far as I can tell, the mayor's plan for the city can simply be summarized as "Sit and languish."

by andrew on Mar 8, 2011 11:50 am • linkreport

@David 'So far, this stuff basically has given everyone who voted for Fenty reasons to say "see? I told you so." That's a real tragedy since now the city is not One City. But it doesn't tell us if we're going to be better of 4 years from now than we are today, or not. That's what really matters.

Well said.

by Lance on Mar 8, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

But it doesn't tell us if we're going to be better of 4 years from now than we are today, or not. That's what really matters.

Had Fenty been re-elected, I believe that we would also be better off 4 years from now than we are today, so Gray's mayorship would not have had any marginal benefit over a Fenty mayorship. However, I think there's definitely a possibility that a Gray mayoral administration will leave us either worse off in 4 years or, while better than now, not as good as a Fenty administration would have left us 4 years from now.

by JustMe on Mar 8, 2011 11:56 am • linkreport

David wrote: "I'll admit I made a mistake when I'm convinced it's a mistake."

Translation: David still doesn't think it's a mistake that he supported Gray. Now I'll be the first to agree (as BDC noted) that 2 months is too early/not enough time to determine whether Gray is doing or will do a good job. But we don't have to wait 4 years for the answer, either...we'll know inside of 2 years.

by Froggie on Mar 8, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

How about outrage that leads to good policy? I really think it’s necessary to institute a run-off system (ala Chicago) for mayoral elections. As a DC citizen, I'm already poorly represented in the federal government, but as an Independent, I can't vote in the Democratic primary, which is the only vote that matters when it comes to the mayor's office in a very Democratic DC.

by cmc on Mar 8, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

I must say, I tend to agree with David to a degree. However, the reality is there is not much consistancy of standards and many of the folk who complained about Fenty are just as inconsistant as many who complain now about Gray. When it comes to the abuse of public trust and resources, the worst offender has probably been CM Jim Graham and this relationship with a handfull of developers. However, many here look the other way at that abuse to gain favor with him as chair having oversight of DDOT and a WMATA Board member. Or there is a tendency to look the otherway while some developers exploit the most vulnerable because we support density around Metro Stations, or seek donations to our Urbanist organizations. Which is why most of this discussion rings hollow to me. When it comes down to it many of the advocates who post here are no better than the Federal City Council/Committee of 100.

The Gray Admin will have to deal with its Karma, but so many of the self-rigtheous here. It's interesting that if we talk about equity and justice, we are in a different but similar boat after Fenty as after Barry. I think we should distinguish between cleaning up and sweeping under a rug.

by W Jordan on Mar 8, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

Point taken David. To @Andrew and others points though, you seem to have a very low bar for Gray vs. Fenty. You rode Fenty and his cabinet members constantly when they were some of the most progressive in the country. Gray just has to do.... what exactly? There is no question that we are not going to be moving forward at even close to the speed of progress in the Fenty administration, and arguably are going to move backwards. Definitely have already. Also, these scandals may not prove to be "minor" if there is lying and bribery.

The other problem is that Fenty drew national talent and people from outside the system. Those people will not want to work for this administration. Without the Rhee's, Klein's, Tregoning's, and their replacement by Barry era people will make it impossible to rise to the levels we saw under Williams and Fenty.

At any rate, lets pray for our city that we all care about deeply and for Gray to surround himself with people who also care about D.C. versus their own interests and a paycheck.

by 25 Year Resident on Mar 8, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert: I think what the long time residents are trying to say is that the jury may still be out but all the signs are pointing in the direction of the poor government they have seen in DC in the past. It's like a movie. If you've already seen the movie (even if it was a long time ago), you can more easily predict what comes next than if you have never seen the movie before.

by Jim on Mar 8, 2011 12:06 pm • linkreport

And that's the bottom line: A vote for Fenty was always a vote for a) some clutch of mini-scandals; and b) effective governance. A vote for Gray was a vote for a) some clutch of mini-scandals; and b) ???.

Again, you don't double-down on 19.

by oboe on Mar 8, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

At the very least these scandals confirm that electing Gray was a move that came with serious risk. These scandals don't prove that Gray will be bad, but they do prove that the risk definitely exists.

That in turn means the question for Gray supporters is whether they still think the potential benefits outweigh the now obvious risks. Could Gray be such an overwhelmingly better mayor than Fenty that it's worth the very real risk of disaster?

by BeyondDC on Mar 8, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

Oh, one last observation: I think that's why most GGW readers were so puzzled with David A's endorsement. I at least understand older residents' (and poor residents') preference for Gray. (He pays his obeisance to The Churches! He enjoys hand-dancing!)

The good-government critique of Fenty was always more puzzling: Sure Fenty's effective and less corrupt than any big city voters have any right to expect, but, what the Hell! Maybe this Gray guy'll be the third decent mayor in DC's history.

by oboe on Mar 8, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

Froggie: We could know as soon as this budget is over. But we still don't know.

cmc: We agree with you and have posted a few articles on how the primaries are unfair. If only the outrage over this led to fixing that problem, but there isn't enough of a nexus.

25 year resident: We're riding Gray too on stuff that is important. I slammed that economic development transition report that seemed to have been written by the Northern Virginia Board of Trade. And there's something else coming up later today that you will probably enjoy.

Rhee was replaced by a slightly less controversial virtual duplicate of herself. Tregoning is still there. And they haven't picked a DDOT director. When they do, that will be a real test. But so far, on those 3 major cabinet posts, we have one who's pretty similar and possibly better, one who's the same person, and one unknown.

by David Alpert on Mar 8, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

Oboe: Not puzzled at all. Old story. People get involved in politics to effect change. Then they get to know all the players personally. Their calls get returned. They make friends.

Suddenly you start to rationalize. Hey, so and so isn't so bad, even if they got nailed with their hand in the cookie jar. "I can effect better change from inside". Other such crap.

Eventually you become just another part of the establishment, being more concerned with maintaining your connections and access than actually effecting change, and even start arguing for the status quo because you identify more with the players than the annoying activists you used to be part of.

Like I said, very old story.

by John on Mar 8, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

The real question at this point is, regardless of who you supported, is there anything we can do to safeguard the cities image beyond our borders now? It seems the answer is no, but does anyone have any thoughts outside of electing a real reformer to the at-large council seat to take on Gray and Kwame Brown if things continue to head downhill fast?

I like others hope that Gray is not a bad politician and just surrounded by bad apples. If we are wrong, if the streetcar funding was a premonition, or if he can't manage the people around him, what can we do?

by Dinghus Khan on Mar 8, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

@25yr I think we viewed your endorsement as very naive, because we know how fast we could slip back, and how hard the key players working under Williams and Fenty toiled to change perceptions, and the reality of DC Gov.

And this is an example of the alternate reality we're living in. How is it possible to judge Gray considering the length of time he'd been in office. DAl is much more resourceful than most of us but I think it will be interesting to see what Fenty had accomplished w/in his 2nd month and what the city had to say about it. I'll willing to guess that considering the landslide victory he enjoyed over Cropp, the well wishes of us who voted, there weren't many negative stories about him UNTIL his attitude changed.

Fenty didn't draw a national talent. He hired Rhee at the recommendation of his New York friends. She became a national talent AFTER she got here. If we're going to "fairly" criticize Gray's pool of talent, we also must do the same for Fenty. I saw little in her resume that demonstrated why she should be the school chancellor. The same goes for Gabe Klein. But here, we've been harping on qualifications based on a resume.

@Ahk, '85/86. I was in grade school.

Nice try Hogwash. As a dually appointed member of the "I liked DC the way it was when everyone was getting shot" I'm sure you did dislike the Fenty and William's administrations. You're probably one of those baby boomers who bought his DC house at an artificially low price on the blood of everyone who was getting shot. You're a real champion

And in 85, I was likely in the 4th grade. Hard to be a baby boomer considering. I'm a renter. Not a homeowner. I never said that Williams should get 100% of the credit. What I didn't do is (like you) conclude that nothing he did compared to the "greatness" of Fenty. Even still, Fenty certainly shouldn't receive 100% credit for "fixing" DC is DC isn't "fixed." But carry on.

by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 12:45 pm • linkreport

For the record, I don't think David should redact his endorsement. Even if he were willing to do so, it wouldn't accomplish anything positive.

The election is over. What's past is past. Now the only important questions are how we can best move forward.

We should admit to ourselves that Gray is a gamble, but double our efforts to stay engaged so the gamble works out in our favor rather than against us.

by BeyondDC on Mar 8, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

Actually, some of us voted for Fenty holding our noses. I did. His scandals are no different than Gray's. Umm, Sinclair Skinner? Ron Moten? Shifting contracts to DCHA?

I wrote this in Jan. 2010:

The mistake in the "Anybody But Fenty" type argument is expecting that different people who are products of and participants in the same system are somehow different.

The problem isn't Fenty per se, but the system that produces him and other people just like him (M. Brown, K. Brown, R.D. Peebles, V. Gray, etc.).

On occasion there are outliers (i.e., Paul Wellstone), but it doesn't happen very often.

The problem is of the "system" and the "network" -- how and why it doesn't generate the outcomes we want and prefer -- and our role in maintaining it. (This is abetted by weak neighborhood and civic organizations and the lack of any substantive "good government" advocacy organization in the city. But you can't blame people necessarily for the lack of civic capacity and capability. We haven't built solid institutions to assist people in developing their own efficacy.)

I try to fight the power through analysis. But most people tend to ignore it and search somehow for a savior as well as maintain a militant refusal to look within to see whether and how they contribute to the dysfunction.

As long as we do that, we guarantee that things won't change. (E.g., just because you change a burned out light bulb doesn't mean that the light fixture is somehow significantly different.)

In the early 1990s, the director of the advocacy organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting gave a speech where he talked about the media's "bias of the middle," in favor of a middle of the road position, one that excuses negative U.S. actions abroad as the result of some kind of aberration around particular individuals, so that when these faulty individuals are replaced, the outcomes will end up being better.

The reality is that those individuals were part of a system that functioned the way that it was intended.

Gray is way smarter than Fenty. But that always doesn't mean enough. It might be that he is just too much of a creature of the way the system has always been. I am still hopeful. Fenty likely would have gotten a lot worse on appointments and contracts in a 2nd adminstration. But we'll never know.

But I laugh at how the Examiner quotes Ron Moten in comments about the Gray Administration vs. the Fenty Administration.

by Richard Layman on Mar 8, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

Really, this is a mirror image of the fanaticism of tea party remembers. Yes, I know it isn't sexy to read. But does anyone remember how that all came about? In February, weeks after Obama was elected, the tea baggers were walking around in rally's wearing tea bags, protesting the financial "mess" Obama got us in just weeks before. There was no reason to their protest. There was no balance to their critique of the president. It just was. And so the tea baggers became the tea party and reason was thrown out the door.

It's the same here. Because of how divided the country is, Obama wasn't given a chance to govern. The exact same thing can and should be said about DC. Gray's biggest detractors WILL be Fenty supporters and that, in itself, is a sad commentary about people supposedly concerned about DC. Saying that Fenty accomplished a lot while ignoring his indiscretions as secondary is shortsighted and the faux Gray outrage will led to scandals dictating policy.

Remember what happened with ACORN. Scandal led to bad policy which the Supreme Court later found unconstitutional.

IMO, this seems to be the gist of DAl's point.

by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

I like others hope that Gray is not a bad politician and just surrounded by bad apples.

That's a tough choice -- a good politician surrounded by bad people (George Bush), or a bad politician surrounded by good people (Adrian Fenty).

by andrew on Mar 8, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

I'm still struggling to understand WHAT scandal?

Sulimon Brown is a child molester -- and got fired.*

The council wanted a SUV - and got smacked down.

The DC council is overpaid -- true!

What does any of this has to do with Gray?

* I'm sorry, a quid pro quo to shut up during in campaign in return for a job isn't much a scandal. By that logic HRC shut be under special investigation for getting a cabinet job.

by charlie on Mar 8, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport


First, unlike your analogy, Gray (also Kwame) has been slammed for things _they actually did_. Adrian didn't hire SB and leave the issue. He didn't hire Gray's cab fixer's kid. Didn't hand over Fully Loaded Navigators on the way out the door.

Second, in context to the above, he ran on a "clean govt." attack platform leg. No fair whining when one is then held up to one's own standard.

Again, it's one thing to look at legitimate outrage and offer better suggestion for a focus that would be good policy. Another to write a post which effectively says "shut up and stop complaining, rabble".

by John on Mar 8, 2011 1:15 pm • linkreport


1. So Gray hired SB? And your source confirming that is where?

2. Not sure what cab fixer's kid you're referring to. But Gray owns a cab? didn't know that.

3. Who exactly did Gray hand over fully loaded navigators too and where is your source? I thought the issue was what the city council chair did. So what does that have to do with the mayor? Was Fenty responsible for what Gray did too? Or is this an example of the inconsistency another poster posited above? I think so.

Unless gov't is run by one person, there is no such thing as a clean gov't. Being held up to a high standard is one thing. Held up to a superhuman standard is another. Think Obama. He promised the world and because of it, people now hold him up to a superhuman standard. That's life.

by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

I find David A's arguments supporting the vastly overpaid Councilmembers and the 6-figure jobs given to Gray cronies and their offspring to be utterly unconvincing.

Especially since DC gov't employees haven't gotten raises in several years, have gone through several rounds of layoffs, and are looking at more cuts in the coming budget.

"One City" is a dopey slogan, not a policy or even a governing strategy. We're in for a long 4 years. If Gray doesn't fire some of his top advisors who have served him poorly, then we know what sort of mayor he will be.

by Fritz on Mar 8, 2011 1:46 pm • linkreport

1. So he's not responsible for his subordinate's actions? Not required to terminate those who do things like this? Interesting.

2. The guy who was Vince's campaign cabbie liaison and organizer kid got a nice 6 fig gig. I'll try and get a link later, as unfortunately google searches for "Vince Gray Nepotism" and all variants have too many results to go through on the job.

3. You will note I included Kwame in my original post. This thread is about DC Govt scandals, not just Vince. That being said, Gray didn't need to go for $78K Navigators, Fully Loaded. He could just as easily satisfied security with a $38K Ford Escape Hybrid.

Again, for Vince in particular, he set his own standard. No fair whining when he's held to it.

by John on Mar 8, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

The criticism of Gray is appropriate, and the scandals are a problem, but I don't think that we can say that the entire administration is doomed for failure. I will even allow myself to be optimistic (naive?) and hope that these scandals open up some real impetus for change: at least making the nepotism and cronyism much harder.

by SJE on Mar 8, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

I'm simply not sure what action you're referring to. Are you suggesting that Gray should fire the person who hired Brown? "IF" you are referring to Brown, he was fired. I don't get it.

2. Oh ok, hadn't followed that story much. Not knowing the details, was the kid qualified to do the job or do you just have a problem with the perceived nepotism. If the latter, I can understand somewhat but, our Federal and State governments are filled with people who got their jobs through the same. Might I ask, were you just as uncomfortable with Fenty's godfather as the city's Attorney General?

3. You're right, this is about more than Vince. Re: the Navi's, I thought Brown, not Vince was the subject of public scorn. Did Gray attempt to illegally procure a vehicle like Brown? I'm sure he could have been fine with an Escape but according to recent factual reporting, both Fenty and Williams had the same. Do you retroactively have the same issue with them as you do now, even though they seemed to be on the straight and narrow?

This isn't so not about Vince being held to a higher standard. He's being held to the Obama standard - unlike any person before him.

Oh yeah, speaking of taking responsibility for subordinates, is Obama responsible for the actions of MacChrystal? Do you hold Williams and Fenty responsible for the actions of Ghandi, who was head at the time the city was bilked for 10's of million's of dollars? Did Fenty fire him?

I ask these questions not to be combative but to gauge how consistent you are/have been in your criticisms of other officials acting similarly.

by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 3:17 pm • linkreport

I took the liberty of doing my own research,

For a comparison, Here's an article discussing the "Fat Paychecks under Fenty's watch." Do you recall outrage similar to that we're witnessing now?

by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

Honestly, the short answer to your questions is the old line your Mom lectured to you as a kid. "And if little Jimmy also jumped off a roof would you too?". Under your logic, we can never address corruption, because no one previously addressed corruption. And we can't do so in the future because we didn't now, because we didn't in the past.

That's really a dumb, self referential argument.

In more specifics for myself, yes had I been aware of the luxo SUVs I would have said the same thing. I oppose nepotism in general. Leaders are accountable for the actions of their subordinates, and are obligated to deal with their mistakes, otherwise no one is accountable.

by John on Mar 8, 2011 4:05 pm • linkreport

Yes, but I don't think that's a good analogy because we're talking about business practices not what we do for fun.

In this case, it seems as if you are making a "corruption/incompetence" accusation against Gray w/o taking into consideration the similar actions by those before him. Ignorance of the law is ignorance of the law. Fenty shouldn't be blasted for procuring an expensive SUV if that was standard practice. Is he ultimately responsible? Of course he is. But it's a standard that won't hold up to those of us guided by reason rather than the emotional responses often found during these discussions.

Moreover, unless we're reading different news accounts, Gray has launched an investigation into the accusations by Brown. Other than stepping down, what is the appropriate action that a mayor (in this instance) should take beyond what has now happened?

Simply piling on doesn't resolve anything. I believe that DAl perfectly summed up this irrational opposition to all things gray when he said that he hasn't seen enough "scandal" to warrant him reneging on his support for Gray and that the best this does is give anti-Gray people the opportunity to say "I told you so."

That only allows our irrational thoughts to travel at the speed of light while resolving nothing.

by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 4:37 pm • linkreport

I'm glad Gray's getting raked over the coals for this stuff. Not because he'll resign, or some such nonsense. But because if the reaction is sufficiently brutal, there's a greater chance he'll adhere to the ethical standards he campaigned on. It's obvious--at least skimming the various blogs--that there's a non-trivial number of folks who voted for him that could care less whether he runs a clean ship.

Anyway, of course there's going to be much stronger reaction to Gray's misdeeds than Fenty's: everyone who voted for Fenty is gloating because they're looking prescient; every "good government" voter who voted for Gray as a repudiation for Fenty's misdeeds feels embarrassed and scorned.

That's a promising coalition which can hopefully hold Gray's feet to the fire.

by oboe on Mar 8, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport

Gray has launched an investigation into the accusations by Brown. Other than stepping down, what is the appropriate action that a mayor (in this instance) should take beyond what has now happened?

Well, just to be clear, he tasked an employee with launching an investigation. If he really wanted to demonstrate a commitment to the truth, he'd have appointed someone outside the chain of command.

Had Fenty been accused of subverting DC's campaign laws, I can only imagine what the anti-Fenty folks would've said if Fenty had appointed Peter Nickles to investigate him.

by oboe on Mar 8, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

Well, just to be clear, he tasked an employee with launching an investigation. If he really wanted to demonstrate a commitment to the truth, he'd have appointed someone outside the chain of command.

Hunh? Unlike his predecessor, Gray does not have a longstanding, lifetime, personal relationship with the AG. Why would Obama ask an independent agent to investigate accusations lobbied against those in his inner circle when the Us AG is already an independent voice of the nation? You want the city to pay for the investigation of claims lobbied by Brown? Wowsers! When will it end.

"Had Fenty been accused of subverting DC's campaign laws, I can only imagine what the anti-Fenty folks would've said if Fenty had appointed Peter Nickles to investigate him.

Funny you should mention that. A good friend (and diehard fenty supporter) pondered the same thing. I'll say the same to you, I recall at least two instances where young, black voters accused Fenty's camp of vote buying. Specifically, the guy who said that someone rolled up in a van, told him he was going to get paid to work/vote for Fenty, and never received any money.

I also recall many Gray supporters crying foul, including the letter written by Gray himself.

And what happened to that investigation Fenty launched again? And who was the attorney on record leading the investigation?

I'm happy to post the news stories if you don't remember.

*Obama really isn't a Muslim you know*

by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

A few things.

1. The analogy holds. That old line applies to "but Jimmy skipped school" as much as "fun".

2. As I said, there is a difference between suggesting worthwhile outlets that would make for good policy, and effectively saying "shut up and support the status quo".

For example, do I think Gray should resign? No. Do I think his nepotism hires can and should be publicly vetted, and if they end up being unqualified they get booted, yes. Should Kwame resign? No. Should this be a spur to create the independent ethics body he promised and then reniged on? Yes.

There is valid outrage here which can and should be channeled into pressure for good policy systems that would cut down on the issues we've seen. What David is saying isn't that, it's knee jerk "circle the wagon to save us from the populist whiners!". And that's what I have a problem with.

by John on Mar 8, 2011 5:31 pm • linkreport

Other examples. Should Council be slammed for acting like children over free seats? Only to the extent they are shamed into donating the existing ones to charity, and the gratuity law extended so they can never again get free "sweet skyboxes" from developers/team owner who they vote public money to. Clear conflict of interest which should naver have been allowed in the first place.

How 'bout them luxury navigators? Resign? No! Use this to force them to modify the laws so that city vehicles are restricted to utilitarian models, preferably at the high end of mileage? Absolutely.

Staffing? We already put city salaries out to the public, why not resumes? Let's see if anyone these chuckle-heads are actually qualified for the appointed jobs.

See, lots of good policies available the outrage could drive, rather than make status quo excuses.

by John on Mar 8, 2011 6:41 pm • linkreport

@John, well we're two different people who clearly approached D's article with different frames of mind. I didn't think that he was suggesting that we ignore all outrage and stop whining. In fact, he said nothing of the sort. What he did say is people are justly upset over the recent scandals and that things like this can lead to a lack of confidence. He went on to implore us not to overreact and force our leaders to make bad policy decisions. He stated his reasons. He didn't say you don't have a right to your own.

I didn't necessarily agree with the idea that people are justified in their outrage in the same way I don't believe true for the tea party. But, I got his point and thought it was well-delivered. A reason why is that I approached it with open mind.

Based on this and other commentary, many seem to be offended that D exercised his right to vote, like a serious personal affront to their core. It also seems as if any negative story on gray (or the council for the matter) invariably gives some in the GGW community the opp to throw it back in his face when at the end of the day, his choice should have had zero weight on yours.
I know you guys tire of the analogy, but this election was barack vs hillary ptII. The difference is that fenty is no hillary who understood the importance of bringing her people begrudgingly along.

by HogWash on Mar 8, 2011 7:15 pm • linkreport

Can I throw a little idea of mine in here? I think the reason David endorsed Gray is that he wanted to endorse the winner. That's why he waited so long. Only when Gray got the upper hand, did David endorse him. David wants access, and you don't get access by endorsing the looser.

by Jasper on Mar 8, 2011 7:21 pm • linkreport

Wow Jasper. I didn't expect that from you! Though I will grant you, you're not the first person to say it. (And I'm not referring to this blog.)

by Lance on Mar 8, 2011 10:26 pm • linkreport

Hogwash: I promised you a link, and luckily the Post saved me the google dig through all the other Nepotism.

Page 2. Note that now his neighbor got a $125K gig.

More fun on Taxicab Brooks

After today's morning performance I doubt anyone is pining for Adrian, bud.

by John on Mar 8, 2011 10:27 pm • linkreport

Other examples. Should Council be slammed for acting like children over free seats? Only to the extent they are shamed into donating the existing ones to charity...

And that's the bottom line: you don't change deeply ingrained behavior by sitting quietly and hoping for change. You do it by publicly shaming them. And, let's face it, a lot of public servants (especially in DC) have a pretty freaking high "shame threshold."

When Gray tried to zero out streetcar funding in the middle of the night, screaming bloody murder was pretty effective. Same with the ridiculous SUV leases. Same with the round of nepotistic hiring. One would hope, after a few rounds of having the air-horn activated in their ear these guys will become a bit more thoughtful about this stuff.

And, as far as criticism of Obama goes, you don't have to look to the Tea Party. There's been plenty of criticism from the left as he essentially capitulates to the worst of the right-wing demogogues on budget policy, and reneges on his very high-profile campaign promises to end some of the worst human & civil rights excesses of the Bush Era.

by oboe on Mar 9, 2011 9:32 am • linkreport

Scandal or not, Grey will make BAD policy. These scandals are just showing he was never ready for "prime time." I think it is time for the FBI to get involved with his administration, and personally I would not have a problem if at this point Congress took over the city for awhile. He made his pack with the devil (Marion Barry) and he is a fool.

by sick of 'em on Mar 9, 2011 9:57 am • linkreport

@ David Albert: Are you such a leftist that you really and truly believed Gray would be better than Fenty because he would help out those individuals whom you feel needed to be helped. Well, look again my friend. I will wager you that within six months Gray is hold out of office (a la Marion Barry in handcuffs) and Congress will have control of the city. Then you and your fellow believers can blame "the man" for the cities woes, when in reality it is you and your elk that got us in this mess in the first place.

by sick of 'em on Mar 9, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

On the other hand, I think picking on Gray's "One City" may be premature. Thanks to his and Kwame's shenanigans, al lot of people who supported him not named David are waklking for the exits. Meanwhile, Adrian's little "I love Wisconsin Union" busting on Morning Joe has a lot of Fenty voters retroactively wanting to vote Statehood Green.

So we may be approaching "One City"...where we all finally agree!...they both kind of suck.

by John on Mar 9, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

I am incredibly confused by the argument here. Why should we continue to trust institutions that fail us? Because they need our trust to maintain the status quo of inefficiency and outright incompetence?

I guess maybe this is just another instance of the paternalistic attitude that many find so grating about the editorials here. It comes across like you're shushing all the silly children who want to vent a little at a mostly-broken government that has committed some very troubling gaffes recently. Incrementalism and patience are good for folks like you who want high-level access and influence but those of us in the lay public know that we are only paid any attention when we do function as an angry mob.

Also, you entirely miss the point with Councilmember compensation. I think most people would have no problem with the current salary levels if there was a ban on outside employment. Jack Evans getting paid a six-figure part-time salary by a law firm focused on public affairs and lobbying that has a number of clients seeking rents from business with the District is incredibly unseemly, at best.

Unfortunately, elections in DC are rarely competitive, and, when they are, they are usually a contest between two quite similar candidates. A little hyperbole about a "federal takeover" that won't really happen isn't a bad thing if it lights a fire under some of our electeds and city departments.

by JAZ on Mar 9, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

Then you and your fellow believers can blame "the man" for the cities woes, when in reality it is you and your elk that got us in this mess in the first place.

I think this is too strong. It was clear all along that the troublesome elk was the ringleader in this. David was just along for the ride.

by oboe on Mar 9, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

LOL, When you can't argue on facts you go on the attack.

Well David, so much for my attempt at objectivity. Guess you'll forever be treated with grammar school taunts by adults who choose to act like querulous children.

Yet your two points remain salient when you say, "So far, this stuff basically has given everyone who voted for Fenty reasons to say "see? I told you so."


we should also beware that righteous indignation can quickly transform into unstoppable pressure for very bad policies.

Your points are well received. As I said earlier, what happened to ACORN is a very good example of such. Outrage led the Democratic controlled congress to strip them of their funding.

Another is the unions. I think DC pols like Fenty, Rhee, and their supporters were instrumental to what is now happening in Wisconsin. Now it's coming back to bite us.

by HogWash on Mar 9, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

Outrage led the Democratic controlled congress to strip them of their funding.

Now, now. Let's be precise here: cowardice led the Democratic controlled congress to strip them of their funding.

I think DC pols like Fenty, Rhee, and their supporters were instrumental to what is now happening in Wisconsin. Now it's coming back to bite us.

I fail to see where we're in danger of being bitten by Fenty, Rhee, or their elk.

by oboe on Mar 9, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

@Oboe, this Warrants reposting: Fenty more than tripled the salaries of those making 175+.

This is important for those who take issue with what Gray has done.

Also, how the left has responded is not relevant to my analogy. Unlike the left, the Tea Party were miraculously silent on the happenings during the Bush years. Yet, weeks after Obama was inaugurated, the blame him for the financial crisis. This is AFTER Bush signed TARP towards the end of last year. Now, many of you are outraged by things currently happening that we're now finding occurred during the previous administration and those across the entire world, ie. nepotism.

As w/the tea party, there should be some semblance of balance to the outrage. There is none and no benefit of the doubt has been given.

by HogWash on Mar 9, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

Yes, I agree that cowardice is a good description of how they performed. But, it was outrage from a manufactured scandal that led to the decision to strip the funding.

Coming back to bite "us" refers to the national attempt to strip collective bargaining rights from unions. I support unions.

by HogWash on Mar 9, 2011 11:30 am • linkreport

I too support unions--where reasonable. Obviously, that means I support collective bargaining in principle. If I were the mayor of a large east coast city--having to deal with various city public employee unions--I can imagine I might feel differently.

For example, every time Nathan Saunders opens his mouth, middle-class support for WTU dies a little bit.

by oboe on Mar 9, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

"Have faith in our ideas, vote Gray". Hillarious, Alpert.

by LoL'z on Mar 9, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

Doesn't all this discussion of elf properly belong in the "Bring Sheep Back to the Mall" thread?

by dcd on Mar 9, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

*elk,* obviously. Urk.

by dcd on Mar 9, 2011 12:51 pm • linkreport

I stopped reading the blog when it endorsed Gray, and have only come here because of a blind link from a real news source. You got what you wanted, transplant. You had no idea just how bad the bad old days were, because you didn't live here then. Well, now you're getting a taste of it. Expect more. Control board, here we come, and not soon enough.

by Youreafool on Mar 9, 2011 1:34 pm • linkreport

"the fact is that we want good legislators" absolutely. Clearly though money is not the way to get them because I don't believe we have really good legislators. They endorsed the prior-Mayor's budgets which used savings for operating funds. The allowed the summer youth programs to continue even though every year, the program went considerably over budget. They emact laws which are not enforced. Nor do they find someone to enforce them: the surplus city property to charter schools, the SUV laws.

by EMI on Mar 9, 2011 3:03 pm • linkreport

You are absolutely right regarding David's motivations but that's why the blog jumped the shark and lost it's ethic at that point. The only reason I still come to this blog is to read Archer, Malouff and Oboe's dead on comments. I think GGW died somewhat with the selfishly motivated Gray endorsement. Always keep your ethics or you got nada.

by Dingus Khan on Mar 10, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

"You're probably one of those baby boomers who bought his DC house at an artificially low price on the blood of everyone who was getting shot."

Which part was artificial? The risk of violence or the oversupply of the market due to people wanting to get away from the aforementioned violence?

Farking markets. How do they work?

by Andrew in DC on Mar 10, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

So apparently Harry Thomas is at the Wilson Building unveiling the findings of the "Trout Report" into Fenty's "Frat Brother cronies" etc, etc...

Word is that the report exonerates Fenty. Ah, well. He may have been an effective mayor, and now apparently fundamentally "clean" as well. But there's still the whole "aloof" thing. No one can take that away from us. ;)

by oboe on Mar 14, 2011 11:12 am • linkreport

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